Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) or new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy which was identified in 1996 by the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh. Over 170 cases of vCJD have been recorded in the United Kingdom, and around 30 cases in the rest of the world. The fact that the epidemiology of the disease coincided with an epidemic of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy led to the hypothesis that consumption of BSE-infected beef caused the disease.
Despite the consumption of contaminated beef in the UK being reckoned to be quite high, vCJD has infected a comparatively small cohort of people. One explanation for this can be found in the genetics of patients with the disease. The human PRNP protein which is subverted in prion disease can occur with either methionine or valine at amino acid 129, without any apparent difference in normal function. Of the overall Caucasian population, about 40% have two methionine-containing alleles, 10% have two valine-containing alleles, and the other 50% are heterozygous at this position. Only a single vCJD patient tested was found to be heterozygous; most of those affected had two copies of the methionine-containing form. Additionally, for unknown reasons, those affected are generally under the age of 40. It is not yet known whether those unaffected are actually immune or only have a longer incubation period until symptoms appear.
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